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A Small Winery’s Cellar and Vineyard Adjusts During COVID 19


Necessity, Flexibility and a Hands-on Routine at Madroña

El Dorado Wine Region, CA (April 6, 2020)

Paul & Maggie BushPaul and Maggie Bush, grape growers and owners of  Madroña Vineyards and Rucksack Cellars, in the Camino Fruitridge region of El Dorado wine country, are trying to ease the learning curve during the coronavirus outbreak. Of course, there is the selling wine curbside and holding virtual tastings, but the Bushes are coping with COVID 19 restrictions fall-out in their vineyards and cellar as well. As owners of a small winery (average 10,000 to 12,000 cases per year), the Bushes are used to doing most jobs themselves, but during these times, Paul explains, “Still there are new aha moments every day!”

When asked what they are doing differently to keep the vineyards and winemaking on schedule with COVID 19 restrictions placed on them, Paul and Maggie say they are learning to punt and using sweat equity to its fullest potential. “Well, first thing that comes to mind is that I’m playing the music in the winery louder!” says Paul. “But seriously, Maggie and I sat down very quickly to pencil out new budgets with assumptions of little or no revenue coming in.” As a result, Maggie and Paul are working even harder than before and have adjusted the hours of cellar staff. 

Vineyard Adjustments

The vineyard crew is still working five days a week as they finish up the pruning and cane tying.  “We will make sure that we retain the vineyard crew at full-time, as there is plenty to do while vines keep growing, regardless,” Paul says. The Bushes’ vineyards lend themselves to safety for his crew. He explains, “We separate the crew by having each taking an individual row. Rows are 10 to 12 feet apart [more than the required 6 feet of separation]. I have also made it clear to our crew that if anyone feels sick in any way, they must stay home.”

Cellar Adjustments

With regard to winemaking, Paul’s cold-stabilizing Barbera Rosé, Grenache Rosé, Gewürztraminer, and Chenin Blanc for bottling soon. “Had we not already had bottling materials like corks and glass here, we probably would have postponed the bottling until we had a better feel for the economic impact. We are holding some red varieties in barrel a hint longer, as we’d rather figure out a way to keep staff employed rather than bottling all wines,” Paul says. Bottling does create a challenge, since one job on the line requires two people to work in close proximity. Maggie and Paul feel blessed that José Brambila, their longtime vineyard manager, and his wife, Carolina, can do this job. Maggie says, “It makes good safety sense, since they live together.” Paul adds, “Our cellar staff is working different days, so we only have one cellar person per day working with me, with plenty of space between us. We are using our high proof, normally used for making port-style wines, for cleaning doorknobs, tape guns, hand trucks, and anything we are all using in common.” 

Life Adjustments

Mirroring friends in Italy, one recent evening Paul, Maggie, their two daughters, and Paul’s mother arranged a formal night in their barrel room. They ordered takeout from an Italian restaurant in Placerville, put down black tablecloths, lit candles, served wine, and dressed to the nines. Paul even wore his tux. He says, “It was fun, memorable, and a good coping mechanism.”

Long Days ahead for Small Vineyard and Winery Owners

The Bush family has a long to-do list for April: 

  • Spraying the vineyard
  • Filtering
  • Disking
  • Bottling
  • Mowing
  • Deliveries
  • Tree removal
  • Shipping
  • Fence repair
  • Payroll
  • Irrigation charging (and repairs)
  • Accounts payable
  • Analysis
  • Taxes (alcohol)
  • Topping
  • Licensing (states)
  • Racking
  • Quarterly inventories
  • Blending trials
  • Budgeting and planning
  • Blending
  • Marketing, marketing, and marketing

Paul and Maggie agree on this: “Every day is something new, and the most important thing is to be flexible!”

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